I crossed the small parking lot to my tiny Chevy Sonic, feet crunching on the fresh dusting of snow that had accumulated. My car sat alone in the lot, cracked windshield and all. The windows were frosted over with a thin layer of ice.
I was used to being the last one to leave the office. Such is the life of a sportswriter. Working with an 11 p.m. deadline, I felt lucky to be packed up and out the door at 11:30 that night. A hamper full of laundry and a duffel of clean clothes packed my tiny back seat. I slung the bag carrying my laptop into the passenger seat, blasted the heat, scraped my windshield and left on what had become my weekly pilgrimage.
It usually took me three-and-a-half hours to drive from Sheboygan to Rhinelander, but on a snowy February night like this, it took a lot longer. I turned onto the interstate just out of town and began the first leg of my drive. Settling into the right lane, I flipped on the cruise control and stole a glance at the passenger seat. A plastic bag sat hidden beneath my leather laptop bag. I fished my hand inside, making sure its content was accounted for, and turned my attention back to the road.
I began dating Megan a little over a year before that night. She was an elementary school teacher in Rhinelander, my hometown, and after a date that I somehow lucked into over Thanksgiving weekend, my weekly pilgrimage began. I spent hours and hours in the car, entertaining myself with podcast after podcast, and the occasional book on tape. While I spent a bundle on gas and more oil changes in a year than I thought was possible, every sleepy-eyed drive and midnight Kwik Trip burger was worth it.
This night was different though. My destination was the same – I was heading North to see Megan, but there was a little extra motivation this time around.
Megan and I are both dog people, and while it may have been a touch unorthodox to endorse getting a puppy while living three-and-a-half hours away, I couldn’t say no when she told me I could name him after my favorite Milwaukee Bucks player and fellow ACL surgery survivor Jabari Parker. If we’re being honest, she could have pushed for any name and I would have signed on.
So on that cold February night, I raced North to see Megan and meet Parker. My heart was absolutely full.
I pulled into the driveway at about 2:30 a.m. The entire house was dark, and as I cracked open the door, plastic bag in hand, I expected to hear some sort of commotion. After all, puppies and crates don’t often result in restful nights of sleep, at least early on. Instead, I heard the usual quiet I had come to expect with my late arrivals.
I flipped on the light and made my way through the kitchen to the living room, where Megan had told me the crate had been set up. The light from the kitchen illuminated a small column of the living room floor, enough for me to catch a glimpse of the corner of Parker’s new crate. Half expecting him to be already snoozing in bed next to Megan (she’s a real softy), I knelt next to the crate and peered in. There, blinking blearily out at me, was my new dog.
Just then, Megan appeared from the other end of the hall where the bedroom is. She sat down next to me, and we quietly propped the crate door open. She told me about the car ride home from the Clark County Humane Society. She said he was a cuddler and that he liked to sleep.
Before she finished her though, Parker crawled out from the kennel directly into my lap. Megan looked on with her mouth ajar in disbelief. It would be the first in a long line of jealous moments she’d have regarding Parker and me. I reached for my plastic bag and unveiled a number of toys I’d picked up early in the day. He chewed for a while on a blue plastic ring I’d picked out especially, but soon went back to snoozing.
Settling in and growing up
Over the next few days, we learned Parker had picked up Kennel Cough from the shelter, so we spent our time watching him sleep and recover. I took a couple of days off from work, so when Megan went to school, I stayed home. Parker slept on my chest and we watched the snowfall.
I grew up with dogs. My family always had at least two throughout my childhood. But it’s different when it’s your own. It’s different when you’re responsible.
Fast forward through months of obedience classes, countless games of fetch, and more than a couple chewed up sneakers, I couldn’t imagine my life without Parker.
In April, I made the move back North to join the team at Drs. Foster and Smith, ending my weekly pilgrimage for good, and in August, I asked Megan to marry me, with Parker by my side.
A lot has happened since that February night, and looking back, Parker was an incredibly important first step toward becoming the family Megan and I are building together. There have been jogs, hikes, marathon fetch sessions, and camping trips so far. I can’t wait to see what’s still around the corner.
Oh, and he still has that blue plastic ring. It’s a little worse for the wear, but it takes a mean bounce off the mantle by the fireplace, so it’s still our favorite fetch toy. We play every night, Parker, Megan, and Me.